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Preston worked at Danvers State Hospital for 24 years. For the first time he shares his story and experience working at the facility.

 
 
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John- When did you start your employment at DSH?
Preston-I went there and applied in 1968 for a maintenance position. What they had open at the time was a handyman position and it was only a 90 day temporary position. I took the job and stayed there for the 90 days and a position opened up in engineering. The hospital asked if I wanted to stay on full-time and I said I would. In my 24 years of employment at the hospital I worked in engineering, I was a carpentry handyman, I worked over at the garage and ran the transportation department. Towards the end I was the director of transportation, the head of grounds and security.

J- Where was your office located?
P- My office was behind the Kirkbride near the plumbing department. Behind the Kirkbride was where all the shops were. Masons, Plumbing,Carpentry, Blacksmith, Tinsmith, Machine shop everything. I worked with them all. The talent they had in these shops was incredible. They made everything right on the property. All the tension screens you see on the Kirkbride windows were all made in the maintenance department. The steel screens in the stairwells for patient protection were all made on site. There was basically nothing they couldn't do there.

J-Were all the building in use and active when you first started?
P- Everything was for the exception of the Male and Female TB units. Even the Middleton Colony was in use. The farm, piggery, hennery was all in full operation. The slaughterhouse, the dairy where they processed their own milk, that was active and that was located at the top of the hill near the garages. We grew our own fruits and vegetables and always gave some to the inmates over at the Lawrence and Salem jails.

J-You mentioned the Middleton Colony was in use during your employment. Back in the 1930's that was housing tuberculosis patients. What was it being used for when you were there?
P-That was for elderly patients. Sort of like a rest home or nursing home for the very old mentally ill. Everything was in full swing even the kitchen over there in Middleton. All the cottages were open. The superintendent lived on the grounds, when I first started there and it was Peter Hogopian. His cottage is still in use today and that's located over in the colony as you first pull in, it's the house on the right hand side. I'm not sure but I believe DYS uses it now. Another old cottage that was renovated and in use today is the Cutler cottage. Well, we referred to it as Cutler because that's who lived in it. He was the assistant engineer to the hospital. His cottage is on the right of the CAB Center. Many employees lived right on the grounds. Even the head carpenter lived over at the Colony in the cottage right next to the mini power station which was also working. That was also our incinerator where we burnt all our rubbish.

J- Was the entire Kirkbride in use? All the wards?
P- All of them. Not only all the wards but the Hydros (B and I annex) were turned into wards because of the overcrowding. At one time those were strictly hydrotherapy. We tiled them and took all the plumbing out and made them into units because we needed the room. Every available space was being occupied. When I first started, there were 2100 patients there so we needed space.

J-The Kirkbride had some renovations only a couple years prior to closing. I read they spent 4 million dollars just a few years before the entire campus was closed.
P-Oh yeah they spent a fortune. Big money. They built a rehab center in back near the kitchen loading dock. During the final few years the only Kirkbride buildings that were in use was front and center (main administration) and the rehab center in back. Everything else was closed. Eventually the entire Kirkbride closed and we worked out of Medical Building (Bonner)

 

 

 

 
Preston's DSH keys © JohnGray

J- How did you hear about buildings and wards closing? Did you hear through other employees? Was it posted someplace?
P-We had management meetings every week where we discussed topics such as closings and other important issues. It was also posted in the DSH newsletter "News on the Hill" every department had to contribute to the paper. They kept a lot of information in regards to buildings closing quiet. They were afraid of losing employees they couldn't afford to lose at the time. They talked about closing the hospital back when I first started in 1968 so no one lent much credence to it because the rumors floated around for years and years. Every time there was a change politically it would swing a different way. One governor wanted it open and one didn't and when Michael Dukakis was in office, he was all for the place. When they started to close some of the units and putting patients out in the street, it was then we knew it was real and the hospital was closing.

J-What was that like seeing patients forced out?
P-I didn't agree with it and even today I don't agree with it. They put out some patients that didn't belong out with very little support and they weren't prepared to go out. I remember seeing patients sleeping in Salem Square on the benches, Lawrence was inundated, Lynn and the police didn't know what to do with them. They're mental health patients, what were the police to do? They just dumped them out on the street to get the numbers down because of politics. The hospital was told to reduce the numbers because of the budget and they did.

J-Why was main administration steeple/tower removed in 1970?
P-It was too expensive to repair. It was deteriorating a little bit and it suffered some water damage. The slate shingles were falling off so rather than repair it, it was easier to just take it down. The hospital hired an outside contractor for that job. They used to hire outside contractors often so they didn't take the maintenance personnel away from their work. Some jobs would be tied up for months. We capped the top of the tower and that's where maintenance put our radio antennas for our 2-way radios. Eventually they moved everything onto the water tower.

J- What happened to the tower after they removed it?
P-They put behind the Medical Building (Bonner) for a while and then it went to the dump. I know the weathervane at the top of the tower was still around someplace in the hospital. I believe it was over in the old blacksmith's shop.

J- Were there any buildings that were off-limits to you?
P- No. I could go anywhere. Maintenance personnel could go anywhere. Towards the later years, when the 6th floor of the Medical Building (Bonner) was turned into the DYS unit, I had to call in advance to go up there. I had the key to get in but I had to call first. They had patients that were a danger. There were young agile kids and they didn't want us getting hurt and they didn't want them escaping. But other than that, there was nothing off-limits to me. I can honestly say I've been everywhere that you could possibly go in that hospital. I was in the tunnels, sub-tunnels, wards, the turrets, and even inside the water tower.

J- Why did you have to get inside the water tower?
P- When I was a handyman , Mike G and myself had to get inside and clean it. The water up there is chlorinated and we also added chlorine to the water ourselves right on the grounds. That was one of my jobs on the weekends was to add bleach to the water. That process was done in the basement of the maintenance cottage. So they had these inspectors come in run tests and they said they water tower needed to be cleaned. Mike and I weren't happy about it but we were assigned to do it. There's a hatch at the top and we got in and cleaned it. I also had to turbine the boilers in the power house. I had to climb inside the boilers which was a nasty, nasty job. It was over 100 degrees inside with them turned off. They couldn't shut them all off but of course they'd shut the one off you had to work on. I'd crawl inside through this small door with a wire brush but you couldn't spend more than 20 minutes inside because it was so damn hot. You'd have to scrub all the tubes inside the boiler but you could only punch 5 or 6 tubes at a time before you'd have to get the hell out because you couldn't breathe. It was a horrible job and we'd try to avoid it at all cost

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This interview was recorded then written for this web site. The statements Preston made were not altered or changed to dramatize his story.